Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Being, and the road to Becoming

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As I spend much of my time reading, getting deeper into my PhD work which revolves around the concept of identity, I feel like I'm re-considering many ideas that feel vaguely familiar, as if at one time I was convinced of their truth based on pure intuition.  A pretty amazing thing about studying identity is that at every turn of a page you're forced to reconsider the very essence of yourself, how you understand yourself, how you see yourself in relation to the world around you, and how you are evolving.

It turns out that (social) identity is somewhat malleable: it can change and fluctuate over time, it is influenced by the social environment we are born into -- a social environment whose philosophies and social practices have been mutually reinforcing for centuries.  I'm tempted to talk about different social universes, because it seems that most people never break out of the one they're born into.  Having traveled extensively for a decade, I'm only now coming to understand the true magnitude of social structures and their implications for our everyday life.  Richard E. Nisbett's The Geography of Thought is currently blowing my mind...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

3 Formidable Letters

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I don't recall if I've yet shared here on NJW my new 4-year plan.   It includes the letters: P, H, and D.  In that order.  As I prep this evening for an upcoming retreat in which I should present a few possible research questions, the magnitude of this decision is looming overhead.

Four years is a long time to spend on a project.  Okay, so if I'm going to do this whole PhD thing, I'm going to do it right. Basically, I have huge expectations. You might call me naive, insane. But I'm not looking for a passable research question that will earn me a title so I can, I don't know, earn a higher salary or something.

I'm looking for a real game changer. A big question. I want to do something that changes the way we see some part of the world.  Something that has potential to be applied in a way that yields real impact for real people.


So..
Exploration and development of scientific methods: yes.
Theoretical contribution: yes.
Become an expert in a field: yes.
But I'm adding another criteria: do something really big. That's just how I roll.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Relocating, and Other Stories from Public Transportation

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Many of my most memorable experiences did not take place at a destination.  It's always the getting there, the journey, that incurs the most fun.  Well, at least what I call fun.  You might call it hell.  It's all a matter of perspective.

The first time I visited Finland, I traveled by ferry boat from St. Petersburg, Russia to Helsinki.  Having hopped off at the ferry terminal and walked just a few blocks to the Russian Embassy to renew my visa, I distinctly remember hauling my luggage back out of the consular office, down a tree-lined street, sitting down in the sun on some giant moss-covered rocks, looking out over the Baltic sea on the horizon and the Helsinki city skyline, and deciding right then and there:  I'm going to live here someday.  I had been there only four hours when my heart - not my rational brain - seemed to commit itself to a pursuit of residence in Finland.  

That was in April 2010.  I wouldn't actually move to Helsinki to start my master degree until September 2012, but when I finally arrived I wasn't all that surprised to be back.  It just seemed right.  I struggled financially as a student there, working and studying 16-18 hours a day for the first year and still barely making ends meet.  But nevertheless I was genuinely happy.  I was exactly where I dreamed of being, in an incredibly beautiful city built around forest and sea and archipelago.  My school offered amazing facilities and opportunities at the low cost of free tuition, and my classmates were creative and inspiring.  And during that first year and a half I grew more in my personal life than I had since my first international move to Belgium six years prior: amid my intense lack of resources, I learned to rely on God completely for provision and in the process grew more spiritually than I ever had before.  It was in Helsinki, walking each evening along the seashore or riding a city bus across bridges connecting islands, that I found a quiet place -- not only externally but somewhere inside my own heart and mind. As I began to avail myself of those moments in solitude, I developed a habit of praying through everything that was going on in my life, laying it all out there in conversation with God.  And for the first time in my life, in that quiet place my ears became attuned to God's voice, to what he was saying, doing, and teaching.  I began to see my prayers answered in incredible ways, far beyond what I had requested.  I thought to myself, God will never take me away from Finland; this is my sanctuary. 
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